Sunday, October 9, 2011

Learning 日本語

Every day I'm learning a little more Japanese. Not in a class but from everything around me. Rather than sitting in a classroom, I sit at the dinner table with my host family or at my desk at work. My best teachers aren't licensed professionals but 12 year old kids. My homework is trying to figure out what a sign says when I'm trying to get somewhere or understand what my coworkers are talking about during lunch. And my tests are when I have to order at a restaurant or ask someone how to find the right train in the subway station.
This way of learning is never boring! It's always an adventure, though it's not always easy. Sometimes it can be really frustrating not being able to follow a conversation or understand what someone is trying to ask me or express something I want to say in Japanese.  But I have to remind myself that I started learning Japanese when I arrived here, only three months ago, so that makes me a three-month old in terms of Japanese. When I think of it that way and focus on what I do know and understand rather than what I don't, I think I am doing pretty well. I'm even beginning to become literate! 
My first piece of Japanese literature... you have to start somewhere!

Can you guess what this says? It's probably easier than you think. I recognized these characters but couldn't remember exactly which sounds they stand for. I knew that the first character sounds like "ko" and the second was either "ah" or "oh". This is a picture of a koala, and there is no "l" sound in Japanese so that means it must be "ko ah RA!" Now you can read three hiragana characters!

One of my host sister's friends, Karen-chan, has English class at school and sometimes comes over so I can help her with her homework. It's really great because I think I learn as much in Japanese as she does in English. I try to understand what the directions say in Japanese in order to help her decide how the sentences need to be written in English, so we are both figuring it out at the same time. She's a really good teacher because she's patient and helps me read the Japanese sentences slowly. When I don't understand a word in Japanese she tries to tell me the English word, and when she doesn't understand and English word I try to find the word in Japanese. When we can't, we look it up in the dictionary and then we've both learned something new!
Karen-chan and her brother Go-chan
Karen-chan's English homework and my Japanese notes
Karen-chan teaching me how to write hiragana and kanji characters

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